30 Essential Books for Industrial Designers

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As requested and suggested by a few loyal Design Sojourn readers, I have compiled what I think are the essential books that Industrial Designers should either own or read.

Now I have one disclaimer, and that is I have intentionally left out the design yearbooks or the ever popular coffee table picture book collections. Simply put, these books don’t do much for you except provide visual eye candy. In fact, I would go as far as advising you to dump them!

The reason is that if you are looking at such books for inspiration, you will likely be recreating the same looks in one form or another. Not only that, because it is a publication, it takes time to get printed and out there. So by the time you are reading it, it is already outdated.

So going forward, I have divided the books into 3 categories, namely Thinking, Process and Designer Skills. So without further adieu here is the list, in no particular order of importance, for you to enjoy!

Edit: I’ve added direct links to Amazon so it’s easier for you to get more information. Do note it’s an affiliate link that won’t cost you anything more.


1) The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Not only can it be a great source of information on usability and product ergonomics, it is also a fantastic source of learning how to be sensitive to the product’s user experience. If it is not a textbook or required reading for your design school, make it so!

2) The Laws of Simplicity (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life) by John Maeda

Celebrated former MIT Media Labs professor and now Head of the Rode Island Institute of Design, shares his principles of design in this book.  However, most of it can be found in his equally beautifully simple website: Laws of Simplicity.

3) Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop–from Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication by Neil Gershenfeld

Also an MIT professor, Neil spends most of his time as The Director of The Center for Bits and Atoms. While not really about Industrial Design, Gershenfeld’s vision of the future in manufacturing will change the way we design and make things. The impact on the future of our careers is so important that I recommend that all Industrial Designers read this book as soon as possible.

4) Designing Design – Kenya Hara

Part design theory, part philosophy and part culture, Japanese designer Kenya Hara shares in this book his thoughts and unique approach to design. A beautiful book design that is a reflection of his theories and is on my must-read list. Unfortunately, to date, I can’t seem to get my hands on one as it is sold out everywhere, including Amazon.

5) Universal Principles of Design by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler

This great book contains a collection of design principles that make it an essential “cheat sheet” for designers wanting to look at a design problem from different angles.

6) Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things by William McDonough and Michael Braungart

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of sustainable design and this book will get you ahead of the majority of designers already out there. If not, it will at least encourage you to start taking baby steps in that direction.

7) It’s Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be: The World’s Best Selling Book by Paul Arden

Though it might not be the self-proclaimed “World’s best-selling book”, it does have plenty of insights on how Designers can compete in today’s over-saturated creative industry. It is a nice and quick read that you could chew through in 2 train rides. However, I do suggest you take twice as long and spend a few minutes in between to digest Paul’s thoughts.

8) The Lovemarks Effect: Winning in the Consumer Revolution by Kevin Roberts

There are quite a number of books about branding or how to go about it, unfortunately, most tell the same story. What I believe is more important is the future of branding in today’s market of consumers suffering from information overload. Personally, I prefer the second book, which describes creating the Lovemark effect, as it has a greater gelling with Industrial Designers trying to create equally positive experiences with their products. For more information check out the official Love Marks Website.

9) Small Is the New Big: and 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas by Seth Godin

Written in a “bite-size” format this book, from Marketing guru Seth Godin, explores how our marketing environment has changed with the influence of the internet. I’m about halfway and looking to finish it.

10) Design (Tom Peters Essentials) by Tom Peters

While Tom is not a designer and often seems to come across ranting to many people, this book is a neat little design guide targeted to Business leaders or owners. While much of it might not be new to a designer, it does give a huge insight on how to pitch your design work in a language that the business people can understand. That itself is worth its weight in gold.

11) Journals from the Design Management Institute by DMI members

While not technically a book, I encourage designers to channel some of their library funds into a DMI membership so that they can get access into some of the best and latest Design Management thinking out there. I cannot begin to articulate how much I have learned through their Journals.

12) The Creative Priority: Putting Innovation to Work in Your Business by Jerry Hirshberg

A great read for Industrial Designers and Auto fans. The Creative Priority, written by the founder of Nissan Design International, was one of the first books I read about managing the innovation and creative process with in an organization. I particularly found how he managed hyper-creative design professionals very insightful and the basis of my designer management practices today.

13) Designing Interactions by Bill Moggridge

These days Industrial Designers will find it hard press to find any product they work on that does not have an interface. Furthermore, as a result of digital technology, interaction design via either the hard keys and that of the graphic interfaces is becoming an integral part of the design process. This book shares the work of many designers and how they made a difference.

14) Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step by Edward De Bono

The classic and often a tough read due to the very academic language he uses. But regardless the exercises he advices are just priceless! I just now need to get into my copy a little more!

15) What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School: Notes From A Street-Smart Executive by Mark H. McCormack

Probably one of my favorite business books, especially the part on business negotiation. No, I did not need to go to business school with this book and neither should you. Check this book out, if you have problems convincing management why they should go with your design.

16) The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene

This book is good in a scary way, especially in a corporate environment where you need to get things done. It can be applied for good or bad, but I leave that decision to you. If it is too big, you can get the concise edition, which focuses more on the Laws rather than the historical context they were derived from.

17) The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm by Tom Kelley

I have to admit that while this book does sometimes comes across as a sales pitch, the depth of coverage of IDEO’s culture and design process can be a great source of learning. Also, some designers might not find any of the information to be groundbreaking as it is targeted to buyers of design, but it does hammer home that these processes are what makes IDEO one of the world’s best design consultancies.


18) Design Secrets: Products 1 and 2: 50 Real-Life Product Design Projects Uncovered by Lynn Haller and Cheryl Dangel Cullen, and edited by Industrial Designers Society of America

A great resource that shows you how products are developed from a sketch idea all the way to the final product, however, there seems to be a little more emphasis on the Industrial Design phases and how they turned an idea into a final product, rather than the down stream development work.

19) Process: 50 Product Designs from Concept to Manufacture by Jennifer Hudson

A fantastic resource and in my opinion another “must buy”. Unlike Design Secrets which focus on the creation process, this book is all about getting to the finishing line, something many design stories miss out. I find that innovation and inspiration can be found in every aspect of the product development process, this book shows you how these 50 products found theirs during the manufacturing stage.

20) Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals by Rob Thompson

Suitably inspired by the last book? Well, this book gets you into more detail. By the clever use of pictures, technical illustrations and descriptions, design opportunities and considerations, over seventy manufacturing processes are explained. This book intends to give designers a greater understanding of what actually happens during a manufacturing process.

21) Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus

What better way to get “sustainable design” into the core of your product, be getting your design inspired by nature, and making sure it is also is able to replenish itself. For more details on Biomimicry, check out our extensive article on this revolutionary design process.

22) Product Design and Development by Karl T. Ulrich and Steven D. Eppinger

Now into its 4th edition, this is one of the few supplemental books that I bought that focused on Industrial Design as part of a bigger process. This is something that you don’t get to see much of at design school even the more multi-disciplinary focused ones. The tendency at school is to focus on the design and creation process, and this book’s coverage of the entire product development process plugs in a lot of the gaps. While a little textbook-ish at times, it still is a great reference guide for designers finding that they have to wear many hats.

23) Managing the Design Factory by Donald G. Reinertsen

Do you need more good stuff on product and project management? Take a look at this book’s collection of successful of design process models. This is on my books to read, and will get to it as soon as I finish my other 5 that I’m juggling!

Designer Skills

24) Presentation Techniques by Dick Powell

Yep, it’s that Dick Powell. I believe this became an instant classic as it was probably the first of its kind in the sketching or presentation category. This all-rounder book covers all presentation techniques in general, starting from sketch, to marker rendering, and finally to the presentation boards. I actually got a chance to speak to Dick about his iconic book, and after his long groan, he told me that every Industrial Designers he has met has read it. You should too.

25) Creative Marker Techniques: In Combination With Mixed Media by Yoshiharu Shimizu

While Dick Powell’s book is an all rounder, this book specifically focuses on marker rendering and illustration techniques. If I recall, it also brings into the equation techniques using computer programs. The reality is rendering in Photoshop or Illustrator is no different from old schools markers.

26) Sketching: Drawing Techniques for Product Designers by Koos Eissen and Roselien Steur

This book houses a great collection of sketching and drawings contributed by Industrial Design professionals from all over the world. Not only that, there is a great collection of drawing tutorials like varying the line widths, vanishing points, and shading etc. at the beginning of the book.

If you are interested in more recommendations for sketching books, check out our earlier post that covered Good books on Design Sketching.

27) Architecture: Form, Space, & Order by Francis D. K. Ching

Something slightly off the beaten track, but I think also equally important. Already into the third edition, Francis Ching’s beautifully hand lettered book for his Architecture students, remains one of the best examples of teaching the principles of design. My first edition copy, completely yellow with age, is one of my all time favorite books. I got it as a gift from my parents when I told them that I wanted to be an Architect when I grew up.

28) Elements of Design: Rowena Reed Kostellow and the Structure of Visual Relationships by Gail Greet Hannah

A must buy for all Industrial Designers as it is the reproduction of Rowena’s Form theory class at the Pratt Institute of design, which I actually got accepted to but never went. (Long story that one) Basically, it teaches designers how to be sensitive to the manipulation and control of forms so that they can solve complex design problems.

29) Basic Visual Concepts And Principles For Artists, Architects And Designers by Charles Wallschlaeger and Cynthia Busic-Snyder

This fantastic resource that covers Visual principles in general and a great reference guide for all designers.

30) Digital Lighting and Rendering (2nd Edition) by Jeremy Birn

This is probably one of the best books on Lightning and Rendering I have read as it does not focus on any program in general but instead on fundamental techniques of lightning. With techniques similar to what photographers or movie makers use, you will never have to wonder why your CAD rendering looks so odd.

I hope you enjoy this list as much as I did to compile it! I’m sure some of my suggestions would be familiar to you, but I hope you would have uncovered some gems here as well. Also if I have missed out any of your favorite’s books, please do not hesitate to let me know what they are by leaving a comment?

  • David

    April 5, 2017 at 9:22 pm Reply

    Have someone read this? https://uxstudioteam.com/product-design-book/

    • Brigitta Puskas

      August 7, 2018 at 8:50 pm Reply

      Yeah, I ordered this book recently! I think it provided a very nice overview of the whole product design process, and what I really found useful were the case studies. It’s cool cause it’s written by the CEO of this design company, so they really do this every day, and have really hands-on insights.

  • D2innovación

    October 15, 2015 at 7:36 pm Reply

    Excellent list. Thanks
    Could you recommend some text about design and sustainability?

  • Ahmad Ali

    July 1, 2013 at 6:14 am Reply

    Well a great list. I want to start learning sketching, sketching of inventors or engineers kind of thing. Is there any tutorial based book that you may recommend ?

  • Bhaven Chauhan

    July 18, 2012 at 11:54 pm Reply

    I read this article when it was first published… I definitely agree that ‘Manufacturing Processes for Design Professionals’ is one of the best ID books, but I feel like now it would be considered quite behind, as there have been quite a few advances in materials and manufacturing techniques since then. You’ve updated your section on books for design sketching – is it possible for you to do the same for this – or recommend the latest book on manufacturing/materials/processes that’s just as good?

  • Jashan

    October 1, 2011 at 11:12 pm Reply

    Hey DT!
    I’m doing architecture(B.Arch) currently but i my heart is more into industrial design. I try to educate myself from where ever possible…So is there an additional degree required for Industrial design? I’m like being Autodidact!
    Thanks, Jashan

  • Patricio

    May 9, 2011 at 10:39 pm Reply

    I do always read every list of reccommended titles for design students / designers.
    I’m glad to see that our school of design library has every single book listed here. (and more)
    keep up the good work.

  • chaitanya

    March 17, 2011 at 4:37 am Reply

    another very important design-section from your side, this will help us a lot.!!!
    ..thank you so much for sharing this 🙂

  • Vikash Kumar

    March 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm Reply

    Hey it was really a nice collection.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

  • Serggio B

    January 25, 2011 at 6:49 am Reply

    Well, what schould I say …
    Great job done…
    Thanks in name of all designers for this
    “library” of essency in design ideas in one place.
    Serggio B

  • Anny

    July 25, 2010 at 9:19 am Reply

    Thank you very much for the contribution, many of these books I must confess I did not recognize.
    Above all I love being able to see the list of books by John Maeda and Neil Gershenfeld within essential!!!

  • Component Joe

    April 6, 2010 at 4:19 pm Reply

    Fantastic list! Agree on the Paul Arden title… you will need some time to digest his words between chapters!

  • rinitis

    November 22, 2009 at 4:36 am Reply

    excellent list, very useful. I have nº21 “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine M. Benyus”, but it didn´t like me a lot. I´ll try with other of this list

  • Peter Wooding

    June 18, 2009 at 10:14 am Reply

    Juicy food for thought and….debate. Looks like a great list.

  • shruti kale

    June 12, 2009 at 3:32 pm Reply

    Hey great help!!!
    Thanks a lot

  • mike sch.

    June 2, 2009 at 5:09 pm Reply

    Great list – thx for sharing!

  • Shashikant Tewary

    March 25, 2009 at 12:50 pm Reply

    It is a power pack 30!

  • alan manley

    March 21, 2009 at 1:37 pm Reply

    …and i agree with Sara Nordman; Designers are Wankers is a great book and also should be somewhere in and around this list. And a great title for a book!

  • alan manley

    March 21, 2009 at 1:34 pm Reply

    Great list, i own some of these and wish i had the rest! I would also like to include for the first time audience to Product Design; Toothpicks and Logos by John Heskett. Brilliant book, the reason i got into design.

  • Jen Castors

    March 4, 2009 at 7:14 pm Reply

    An amazing list of absolute classics.

  • DT

    December 19, 2008 at 11:19 pm Reply

    Hi PieterC,
    Thanks for your recommendation! Because of it I was browsing “Made to stick” the other day!

  • PieterC

    November 27, 2008 at 3:16 pm Reply

    I would like to add “Made to stick” by Dan Chip: why some ideas survive and other dies.
    Another really good book to see how industrial design works is Monkey Business (about how they created the brand Kipling) – don’t know if it’s available in English.

  • DT

    October 29, 2008 at 9:33 pm Reply

    @Andrew – One of my favorites as well!
    @Sara – I hope we are all not that bad! I’m looking for this book as well.

  • Product Design

    October 20, 2008 at 10:19 pm Reply

    What a superb list! Thank you so much for this. I already have several of these books but there were a few on the list which I hadn’t heard of. Ive read a few reviews on these and they sound excellent, Ive ordered them and have high hopes!

  • Sara Nordmann

    October 20, 2008 at 5:21 am Reply

    I also love “Designers are Wankers.”

  • Andrew Durham

    August 11, 2008 at 5:45 pm Reply

    Buckminster Fuller.

  • DT

    July 30, 2008 at 2:30 pm Reply

    Hey cybrpnk, thanks for stopping by, if in doubt the library is also a good place. Just photocopy the stuff or pages you might need.

  • cybrpnk

    July 30, 2008 at 1:22 pm Reply

    saw the Rob Thompson manufacturing processes book in kinokuniya the other day…definitely have to pick one up…ordered it…cause they only had the shelf copy…:(
    other than that…i’ll be needing to save up a lot more to afford all these books…argh…need more design books…

  • Martin Owen

    July 22, 2008 at 5:08 pm Reply

    Pirsig’s “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” is important – of help you think of “quality” and what it means.
    Marquez “Los cientos annos de soler” (“one hundred years of solitude”)- because the ways products are consumed is not always the way you think they will be consumed. The way Macondo develops and the ways some technologies are greeted (telecopes, ice making, light, cinema) are not what the designer may expect.
    Yes they are novels – but the fictive mind has much to teach us too!
    Great list and it needs Papenek

  • De Web Times

    July 21, 2008 at 11:49 am Reply

    Hi, this is a excellent list for reference.Have already read some, but the rest will really help a lot. Thanks again.

  • Rini

    July 19, 2008 at 12:28 am Reply

    Wow. I hope, I have all.
    Great reference. Thanks

  • Jesse

    July 15, 2008 at 12:06 pm Reply

    thirty three:
    “The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value is Remaking Commerce, Culture, and Consciousness” by Virginia Postrel.

  • DT

    July 14, 2008 at 5:43 pm Reply

    @Matt Thanks for the link, I will check it out!
    @Masha and @Lucas, thanks for your comments and please keep in touch!

  • Lucas

    July 14, 2008 at 7:06 am Reply

    Good one Matt. I agree, this is an essential collection and a gateway to many other great industrial design books out there and more to come.

  • masha

    July 11, 2008 at 5:36 pm Reply

    and what about Papanek ‘Design for the Real World’ ??

  • Matt

    July 9, 2008 at 8:28 pm Reply

    Don’t forget Thoughts on Interaction Design, with a free pdf, at http://thoughtsoninteraction.com/contents.php

  • DT

    July 8, 2008 at 2:27 pm Reply

    Hi all, and thanks for the great feedback! I will do my best to answer each in kind.
    @Jim Rait, yes Tom’s PSF 50 is a good one, and I have heard of Bill Buxton’s Sketching User experience as well. The PSF 50 can be downloaded at Tom Peter’s website as a PDF. On working with a master, that is ideal, but unfortunately many of us can’t so perhaps this book could be a distant replacement? Also that idea of pulling it all into one book is great, perhaps this looks like a ID community book coming together?
    @David Airey: YES! That is a great book, we have recently covered it here as Design Sojourn as well. This will be one of my soon to buy books as well. Not to mention the gorgeous pictures!
    @Niels: Thanks for the suggestion! It looks fun as books off the beaten track interests me. They are a source of a lot of my inspiration.
    @larry Rosenthal: Thanks for this great suggestion. Im sure there are many other classics such as Doblin’s work that don’t get cataloged.
    @Vallabh Narola: Thanks for your kind feedback and please keep in touch.
    @David: Best of luck and do let me know if you uncover any other good books?

  • David

    July 5, 2008 at 10:06 pm Reply

    I have read 2 of those books, own one and I think im gonna go to the library near me and the rest =] Thanks DT

  • Jim Rait

    July 4, 2008 at 4:58 pm Reply

    We should take key chapters from each and assemble into an ensemble book as O’Reilly does with his! Then we could stop our booksheleves collapsing!

  • Vallabh Narola

    July 4, 2008 at 1:40 pm Reply

    Excellent Books. These books sharpen Designers’s imagination skills. Thanks a lot !

  • larry Rosenthal

    July 4, 2008 at 9:07 am Reply

    good to see Rowena there… more lessons in that book then youd know for design as craft.
    and anyone interested in real design history and information design should search hard for JAY DOBLINS “Information Design” i think by IIT press from around 1985 or so.
    a simple book with simple illustrations that outlined and pegged every “web announced interactive whatever from whomever of today”;)
    its not even a blip on Google which shows you the inherent problem with information design,design, and its execution today by most. i just tried to find it or a link to a mention of it.. nothing.
    well, at least within the first page of google- clemont mok is cited, offering his influence by Doblin.
    the book- his work- should not be forgotten or replaced by the fad of google-info design.

  • Niels

    July 4, 2008 at 5:11 am Reply

    Nice collection. I read a few of them and they definitely need to be here. What about ‘the inmates are running the asylum….. of Alan Cooper?

  • David Airey

    July 3, 2008 at 9:48 pm Reply

    Hi DT,
    These books are great for so many more people than just industrial designers.
    I particularly enjoy the late Paul Arden’s “It’s not how good you are. It’s how good you want to be.” A superb read.

  • Jim Rait

    July 3, 2008 at 8:31 pm Reply

    Good list… I would add two books that, I think, make design ventures fit into the world of commerce a little more easily…
    The Professional Services Firm 50 by Tom Peters and Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton. Just don’t ask which two to leave out!… ok 25 and 26! Why those? Because skills should be learned at the side of a master.. competences stemming from points of view need to be reflected on as we read.. or?

  • DT

    July 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm Reply

    Hi All,
    Wow this amazing, it is my first Article that has had so many replies so quickly!
    Thanks for taking the time to leave your comments as well as sharing your book suggestions.

  • cat

    July 3, 2008 at 5:33 pm Reply

    Excellent list! Thanks DT.

  • Melbid

    July 3, 2008 at 12:00 pm Reply

    The best list of books a Designer should read/own I have seen in a long time. The only addition I can think of off the top of my head would would be adaptive paths new book – subject to change.

  • Nico

    July 3, 2008 at 11:46 am Reply

    Thanks a lot! Great reference.

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